The land of the what? The home of the who?

Is this really what we’ve become? Glenn Greenwald explains:

Decadent governments often spawn a decadent citizenry. A 22-year-old Nebraska resident was arrested yesterday for waterboarding his girlfriend as she was tied to a couch, because he wanted to know if she was cheating on him with another man; I wonder where he learned that? There are less dramatic though no less nauseating examples of this dynamic. In The Chicago Tribune today, there is an Op-Ed from Jonah Goldberg — the supreme, living embodiment of a cowardly war cheerleader — headlined: “Why is Assange still alive?” It begins this way:

    I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? . . . WikiLeaks is easily among the most significant and well-publicized breaches of American national security since the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb. . . .

    So again, I ask: Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?

    It’s a serious question.

He ultimately concludes that “it wouldn’t do any good to kill him, given the nature of the Web” — whatever that means — and reluctantly acknowledges: “That’s fine. And it’s the law. I don’t expect the U.S. government to kill Assange, but I do expect them to try to stop him.” What he wants the Government to do to “stop” Assange is left unsaid — tough-guy neocons love to beat their chest and demand action without having the courage to specify what they mean — but his question (“Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?”) was published in multiple newspapers around the country today.

Christian Whiton, a former Bush State Department official, wasn’t as restrained in his Fox News column last week, writing:

    Rather, this [the WikiLeaks disclosure] is an act of political warfare against the United States. . . . .Here are some of the things the U.S. could do: . . .Explore opportunities for the president to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them.

I emailed Whiton and told him I’d like to do a podcast interview with him for Salon about his WikiLeaks proposal and he replied: “Thank you for the invitation, but I am starting a trip tomorrow and will be on a plane just about all day.” I replied that it didn’t have to be the next day — I’d be happy to do it any day that was convenient for him — and he then stopped answering ….

It was only Tuesday that various guests, including former NSC Director for Defense Strategy Kori Schake and former Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, explained on KCRW’s To the Point that there wasn’t anything particularly significant about the latest WikiLeaks release, save for its volume. Still, though, we see journalists like Goldberg, or former Bush administration officials, suggesting severe actions against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Are we really—really—so frightened by information? Would we support other nations that attempt to suppress public information about what the governments are doing? Would we not protest suggestions that whistleblowers should be assassinated or imprisoned as enemy combatants?

What ever happened to “the land of the free and the home of the brave”? How is it that “transparency” has become a political buzzword in the United States? More than bombs and bullets, it seems information brings night terrors to some, who feel that truth is anathema, and those who seek it ought to be punished harshly.

People don’t want transparency. They want someone to blame, to hate, to condemn. This is a fairly common psychological phenomenon; as people feel more and more alienated by the world around them, they seek some means of exercising a degree of authority. To blame and condemn satiates the hunger for a time, but that satisfaction is fleeting. For the Goldbergs, Whitons, and other warmongers of our age, the missions abroad have been disastrous blows against their identity politics. To admit and accept that the Iraqi Bush Adventure should never have happened, and the mission in Afghanistan was played to lose from the outset, is too great a burden for their identity complexes, so they must find someone or something to blame for every appearance of failure and injustice; the something is truth, and the someone is whoever brings it.

This is what we’ve come to. This is what we want. What I can’t figure, though, is why.

Dear Apple: Thank you, goodbye

To: Apple Computer
From: BD

    re: Thanks, guys—it’s been a good run

Below is the text added to an error report sent to Apple regarding the uselessness of the iTunes application.

    I’ve been attempting nothing more than to make my iTunes actually work. Being a PPC Apple user, and unable to afford at this time an upgrade to an Intel system, I should only comment that Apple has rendered iTunes inaccessible to me. I cannot replace the software with any other version; old versions are, apparently, no longer available. New versions are for Intel computers. The system cannot write or maintain an iTunes library anymore. By Apple’s will, I can no longer be an iTunes user. Between this and the typical collapse (e.g., bricking) of OSX in general, I can assure you that when I can afford a new computer, it will be a Windows box that I can afford first. As there is no longer any performance advantage in using OSX, it would seem I have no reason to not switch to a Microsoft-based system. OSX was a good operating system. However, as Apple has made it clear that they no longer want people like me, who aren’t rich enough to buy a new computer every time they update the operating system, using their computers, I don’t see any need to trouble you by attempting to do so. It’s been a good ten years, guys. Thanks. But you don’t even want me playing music on my Apple power tower anymore, so, yeah. I get the message.

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Literacy in the twenty-first century

Sure, it’s a little thing, but once in a while, you want to know you’re not the only one who was wondering about something. Charles Memminger explains:

Because of the noise created by the various mechanical pain inducers, the only way to follow what’s happening on the overhead television sets is to read the closed captioning. (It’s kind of interesting that the closed captions are not only there for the hearing-impaired, but also for the fitness-impaired.)

While reading the captions, I learned that a man who fled to England after allegedly killing his wife and child in America is facing “extra decision.” Extra decision? Did they mean, like, an extra decision on whether to return to the United States? Then I realized that what the announcer had said was the guy was facing “extradition,” which made a lot more sense.

So I started paying more attention to what the closed captions read versus what was actually being said on TV, and realized that the hearing-impaired were experiencing a different TV world than the hearing.

This is apparently one of those market things. You know, the idea that the market will fix itself? Obviously, not enough televisions playing in restaurants, health clubs, pubs, airports, and so on, are showing closed captions. Because one would think that it shouldn’t take so long for someone to notice.

I was sitting around one day at the Snohomish County Courthouse, orienting myself for jury duty with a sad video explaining the history, importance, and detail of this vital service. Though the video was itself subtitled, someone left on the captioning, as well. Unfortunately, these were captions printed in an opaque box, almost directly over the subtitles. I can’t tell you, then, about the subtitles, but I can only imagine they were more comprehensible than the captions.

To the other, though, the captions are still easier to figure out than SMS shorthand. Maybe the market hasn’t fixed itself because, well, so few people actually notice; they’re too busy trying to figure out how to spell chzbgr.

(Homework: Watch one of the baseball championship series games; turn on the captioning. Don’t make a drinking game out of it, though.)

(Random thought: A friend once suggested that one job she would like to perform at least once in her life is to be the union hand whose job it is to inspect the toilet paper factory and make sure the machine was counting out exactly five hundred squares of two-ply. You know, one of those stupid things one says after a few too many cheap excuses for beers. It strikes me, in a similar—albeit sober—context, that one of the worst jobs in America must belong to some poor bastard at DHS who sits around digging through people’s text messages for hints of terrorism. I once dreamed Tetris; some unfortunate soul out there dreams netspeak.)

Empathy in the twenty-first century

Detail of Boston Globe Staff photo illustration, October 17, 2010Take a note: Empathy, apparently, is on the decline in American society.

The data are sketchy insofar as defining empathy is itself a tough question, and a new study raises in its wake some questions about its dimensions.

But the story from Keith O’Brien, for

Young Americans today live in a world of endless connections and up-to-the-minute information on one another, constantly updating friends, loved ones, and total strangers — “Quiz tomorrow…gotta study!” — about the minutiae of their young, wired lives. And there are signs that Generation Wi-Fi is also interested in connecting with people, like, face-to-face, in person. The percentage of high school seniors who volunteer has been rising for two decades.

But new research suggests that behind all this communication and connectedness, something is missing. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline coming in the last 10 years.

According to the findings, today’s students are generally less likely to describe themselves as “soft-hearted” or to have “tender, concerned feelings” for others. They are more likely, meanwhile, to admit that “other people’s misfortunes” usually don’t disturb them. In other words, they might be constantly aware of their friends’ whereabouts, but all that connectedness doesn’t seem to be translating to genuine concern for the world and one another.

The first question that strikes me is one of definitions; some might resent the suggestion that they are less (or not) empathetic, and this issue could have some root in how we define empathy. Is it simply that one cares about an event, issue, or person? Or does empathy require some sort of demonstration?

And from there, of course, we stumble into the realm of empowerment. That is, sure, one might care about an issue, but what does that really matter?

    Sometimes I watch the TV news;
    I want to say, what’s the use in trying?
    ‘Cause, come on, what kind of difference can one man make?
    Yeah, but how much more can I take?

    (Styx, “Together”)

Now here’s a twist: Such questions only skim the surface. The question of empathy is one that ties to almost everything about our human social endeavors. Indeed, we are as a species stronger together than individually. We tear down mountains, bring fire from the sky, slay one another with remarkable efficiency, stride the heavens, raise oases in deserts, challenge nature itself, and, ultimately, may hold the power to permanently alter the evolution of a planet—and countless species roaming its face.

And empathy is an element very close to the heart of our social instinct. It is an evolutionary tool that has served us tremendously through aeons.

Which raises the possibility that the current state of human empathy is a mere blinking of some cosmic eye; what is a sharp decline asserted over ten years compared to the whole of our history?

It is, of course, a sticky and complicated issue. If few answers suggest themselves, it is because we have not begun to explore the true dimensions of the asserted phenomenon. The first thing, of course, should be to establish its existence. Certes, we might nod sagely and recall various episodes from our own lives, observing in others or reflecting of ourselves specific dearths of empathy. But what does it equal in the larger scale, and what are the implications of that sum?

Englehart on the Stoop

Bob Englehart, of the Hartford Courant:

Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant - October 15, 2010We don’t know yet what President Obama has given us, but it’s sure to cost us more money, be complex and make the health insurance companies richer at our expense. Oh, we’ll have single payer insurance someday, after Joe Lieberman has died of old age ….

…. I know, I sound like a socialist. I don’t care. I just want to simplify. That either makes me a simpleton, or a simple-ist. You conservatives, have at it. I can take your slings and arrows because I’m protected by the armor of certainty, every bit as thick as yours. Plus, I can do something you can’t. I can change my mind. And understand that I’m not so angry that I would stoop to send a GOP candidate to congress this year.

In Memoriam: Recalling a hazy chapter of my past


Simon MacCorkindale has died:

Actor Simon MacCorkindale, who starred in BBC One’s Casualty, has died aged 58 after suffering from cancer.

His publicist, Max Clifford, said he died in the arms of his wife, actress Susan George, on Thursday night in a London Clinic.

The actor revealed last year he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, but was told it was terminal after it spread to his lungs a year later.

He spent six years on the BBC medical drama as Dr Harry Harper.

He was also known for starring in 1980s series Manimal and Falcon Crest and appearing in the 1978 Agatha Christie film Death on the Nile.

Ms George said: “No-one could have fought this disease any harder than he did since being diagnosed four years ago.

“He fought it with such strength, courage and belief. Last night, he lost this battle, and he died peacefully in my arms.

“To me, he was simply the best of everything, and I loved him with all my heart. He will live on in me forever.”

That’s quite the résumé, and yet I recall MacCorkindale from the overlooked television series Counterstrike. Yeah, that’s right. That one. Yeah … that one.

Never mind.

Raise the glass. Thanks, Simon.